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Teen playwright makes debut with revamped Bbx program

From left, A.J. and Aaron Krumholz, both of Mitchell, pose at the recently revamped Black Box Theatre, located in the Pepsi-Cola Theatre in Mitchell. Father and son will both try improvisational comedy for the first time during Saturday's Bbx improv show.

"It's not your grandmother's theatre."

That's the tagline for the revamped Blackbox Theatre productions at Mitchell's Area Community Theatre, which participants hope can be a forum for darker, more edgy material than what typically hits the main stage.

"We'll go out and explore what would make the audience uncomfortable," said A.J. Krumholz, the 16-year-old writer and director of one of the one-acts that opens tonight as part of "Strange Relationships: A Night of Short Plays" at the Pepsi Cola Theatre. But, not too uncomfortable.

"We won't be naked," he said with a laugh.

Krumholz described his one-act, "Nerds in Love: A Love Story," as a comedy with a bit of a dark side. His father, Aaron, who also directs one of the plays featured, described it as an "adult, corny, after-school special."

"It's kind of just this corny, overthe-top style," A.J. said.

Not all of its subject matter is corny, though. A.J. said the play delves into darker territory, addressing issues like bullying, abuse and incest. And, as the title would suggest, a healthy dose of "nerdisms."

"There are a lot of nerdy things in there," A.J. said.

Though not the first play he's written, it's the first time one of his plays has been produced on stage, and is also his directorial debut.

"I just like writing. I have an overactive imagination, and putting it down on paper helps," he said. "This is what I want to do as my career."

It's something A.J., who will be a junior at Mitchell High School, said he grew up around, due to his father's longtime involvement with the Area Community Theatre. A.J. said he practically grew up in the ACT's former headquarters, the State Theatre, before it was destroyed by a fire in May 2004.

"It's definitely in the blood," Aaron said.

Aaron took a hiatus from community theater for a while, until rejoining in 2012 in the ACT's main stage production of "A Few Good Men," which also gave A.J. his first significant on-stage role.

Formerly known as the Shadowbox, Blackbox, abbreviated as Bbx, has transformed the multipurpose room at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre into a theater space, which is where Vicki Hansen-Hickey, said most of the Bbx shows will be performed.

"We can do theater in the round, we can put up a stage, we can do a lot of different things, which gives us a lot of flexibility," said Hansen-Hickey, who is directing three of the night's plays.

Now, with A.J. directing his own play, Aaron said his first instinct was to step back and let his son find his own stride. As the show has progressed, though, Aaron said he has enjoyed being able to work with his son, and that they seem to work on the same page. It fulfilled another goal of the revamped program, too.

"The whole idea of Bbx is a mentor program," Aaron said.

With just under 40 seats, the directors described it as a "more intimate" experience for actors and audience alike, and hope it will attract a different audience than the typical ACT shows.

"I'm just really excited about getting fresh faces into the theater and looking at things from different angles and getting people involved and getting people in that wouldn't normally come to a season show, but getting them interested and involved," Hansen-Hickey said.

Other scenes also will venture into darker territory, she said, which is why the directors recommend people approach the plays with a "PG-13" mindset.

"Strange Relationships" runs today through Sunday, and starts at 7:30 each night. Tickets are $5, general admission, available at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre box office at 996-9137. Seating is limited.